The Back of Beyond. Windswept in Meemure.
The final 30 kilometers from Hunnasgiriya is rough and rugged. At times the steep incline is precipitous and strong winds that blow across from the Corbet’s Gap and the Knuckles Mountain Range buffet the vehicle. The lonely stretches are devoid of human habitation and we struggle to find people to ask for directions, as Google maps is now inaccessible due to the lack of signals.
Almost two hours later we are at Meemure, known to be one of the remotest villages in Sri Lanka. Navaratne Banda, the owner of Wana Arana, our destination for the weekend, is waiting for us. As this is the last leg of motor-able road, we hoist our luggage on our backs for the final trek to the campsite.
For the next 15 minutes, we walk up not-so-steep inclines and scramble down craggy footpaths until we come to a beautiful campsite replete with tall, shady trees, clean grounds and four tents. The centre of the campsite is set in a clearing with wooden benches and sawed off tree trunks (that double up as tabletops), making it an ideal place to congregate and enjoy camaraderie. A separate outhouse makes up two toilets with outdoor showers under the tree canopy.
We unpack and prepare to trek through the paddy fields, which are parched post harvesting. The surrounding area is dry and a warm breeze gives us respite from the humid afternoon air.
Looking up, just ahead of us is the Lakegala Mountain, a massive monolith rising up almost 1310m into the sky at a 90-degree angle. Located in the Knuckles Mountain Range, the bare face of the Lakegale Mountain stands as a fabulous backdrop to this sleepy village.
As is expected, fascinating folklore surrounds this ‘Rock of Lanka’. According to one story, King Ravana is supposed to have met Princess Sita, the Queen of Rama beside this rock whilst another story states that Ravana lifted the dhadumonara, the legendary ancient air chariot, from the top of this mountain. Some folks even believe that remnants of the dhadumonara are still hidden in a recess at the top of this mountain.
The Wana Arana team has set up a small cookout in the middle of camp. Lunch is typical Sri Lankan cuisine comprising red rice, pol sambol, kos curry and karawala and is washed down with chilled-in-the-river white wine.
But as the evening wears on, the soft breezes develop into strong winds and the lack of communication means we have no idea that the entire province is undergoing a severe weather warning. The trees around us are swaying dangerously and cups, plates and bottles start flying around. The fires from the BBQ dance and leap from the coals while the flares around the campsite blow off one by one leaving us with a perfect moonlit night. Thankfully our tents are tethered securely.
The next morning, Navaratne comes down and advises us to break camp for fear of falling trees. But by collective agreement we decide to first venture down river and take a much-desired dip in the icy cold water.
We get into the back of an open top lorry and perch precariously, holding on tightly to each other for fear of getting bumped off. The journey is short and uncomfortable. However, the final destination is magical.
As the river flows down gently over rocks and boulders, little pools of water make for ideal bathing spots. The pure, clean water shimmers in the sun that shines through the swinging branches of the trees overhead. Cut away from the rest of the world, the silence of the forest is only disturbed by the twitter of birds and the gentle splashing of the flowing waters. After the initial dread of the icy cold water, and slowly immersing myself bit by bit into the river, I finally lie still and let the soothing waters caress my entire submerged body. Perfect!
Back at camp, we pack up and are ready to head back to safety from the worsening winds.
But a word of caution to travellers, although the A26 from Kandy to Mahiyangana is awesome, the final 30 kms from Hunnasgiriya to Meemure is pretty bad and will require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The weather at camp is slightly cooler than in Kandy although I suspect that December, during the rainy season, it can get very cold. Needless to say, along with the rains come the leeches so ensure you take adequate precautions and lotions! Apart from that, it is advisable to take a torch, blanket for cold nights, toiletries and charged batteries, as the campsite does not have electricity or mobile signals.
Great one and a wonderful picture of Lakegala. The locals called it ‘Lakiyagala’ or perhaps that’s the way it sounded way back then! We would go up to the peak from the other side which was largely a fairly placid, but long walk. Several of us always vowed to plan a climb of the sheer face one day but never got around to it. Thought I’d share a bit of the past with you, so my apologies in advance if this bores you!!
I first visited Meemure in 1981. We would start our trek in Wattegama, at the Lebanon Estate, trek and camp for 2 nights through the cardamom plantations and along the ridge of the Knuckles to Meemure where we would camp for another 2 nights before trekking up to Corbett’s Gap, which is where the barely motorable road from Hunnasgiriya ended in those days. From Corbett’s we would go by jeep to Mahiyangana for a night before driving to Hembarawa on the banks of the Mahaweli and embarking on dinghies for 4 nights and 5 days of rafting on the Mahaweli, camping on the banks at night and coming out at Kantale. We ran 6-8 groups a year until the war broke out and made everything north of Wasgamuwa (which was then a SNR and not a NP), a no go area. The Somawathie, which was not even a SNR at the time, was teeming with elephants (probably what are today’s Minneriya gathering!) and our biggest risk was inadvertently stumbling upon an ivory poachers camp which could have resulted in some serious consequences. They learned to avoid us and we them, over time!
When we first walked in to Meemure with a foreigner, it was the very first time that 99% of the inhabitants had seen a white man or woman. There was no electricity and only one transistor radio in the entire village. The radio had been brought by one young who had gone to the Middle East to work and he was the first in the village to have ever been overseas. I remember the kids and women being enraptured with the blonde hair of some of the tourists. The village Headman/Mahadenamuttha was a hereditary position that came down from father to son and all the men-folk would gather round him each evening for a general discussion followed by storytelling! One villager was delegated twice or thrice a week to trek to the next Village, Kaikawala, to collect the mail for the entire village as that was the closest sub-post office and the post-mistress was also the primary school teacher, if my memory serves me right. There were crystal clear pools with endemic fish that had not yet been ‘discovered’ and grottoes where the farmers would make offerings of various sorts to Gods they believed protected the forests and crops. The Knitre Caves across the valley were teeming with bats and were absolutely taboo to the locals who believed that evil lurked there.
It was a place out of time and wonderful therapy even then, even though it was work at the time! Not been back for almost 30 years and your musings and picture of the mountain stirred some cherished memories. Must go back now!
It’s not as remote now but just as beautiful.